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Mammal Distribution in Nunavut: Inuit Harvest Data and COSEWIC’s Species at Risk Assessment Process

Karen A. Kowalchuk, University of Guelph
Richard G. Kuhn, University of Guelph


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The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assesses risk potential for a species by evaluating the best available information from all knowledge sources including Aboriginal traditional knowledge (ATK). Effective application of ATK in this process has been challenging. Inuit knowledge (IK) of mammal distribution in Nunavut is reflected, in part, in the harvest spatial data from two comprehensive studies: the Use and Occupancy Mapping (UOM) Study conducted by the Nunavut Planning Commission (NPC) and the Nunavut Wildlife Harvest Study (WHS) conducted by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB). The geographic range values of extent of occurrence (EO) and area of occupancy (AO) were derived from the harvest data for a selected group of mammals and applied to Phase I of the COSEWIC assessment process. Values falling below threshold values can trigger a potential risk designation of either endangered (EN) or threatened (TH) for the species being assessed. The IK values and status designations were compared with available COSEWIC data. There was little congruency between the two sets of data. We conclude that there are major challenges within the risk assessment process and specifically the calculation of AO that contributed to the disparity in results. Nonetheless, this application illustrated that Inuit harvest data in Nunavut represents a unique and substantial source of ATK that should be used to enrich the knowledge base on arctic mammal distribution and enhance wildlife management and conservation planning.

Key words

Aboriginal traditional knowledge, arctic wildlife, area of occupancy, ATK, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, extent of occurrence, geographic distribution, harvest data, Inuit knowledge, Nunavut, species at risk
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087